Personal Safety: Subtle Defenses Against Harassment


      Sometime this year most of us will find ourselves in a situation that calls for defensive action.  We may not have to fight off a rapist, but we may have to face an angry motorist, a complaining neighbor, or an overbearing friend.  In each situation there are different actions that one can take, but only a few of which are appropriate.  The key to an effective personal defense, beyond anticipating the need, is the ability to select the defensive action that will provide the greatest protection with the least personal risk.  In order to make this sort of decision, we need to consider the nature of the threat, the surroundings in which the threat occurs, and our individual skill in using defensive techniques.

      Subtle defensive measures against the bothersome actions of others are valuable in two ways: they provide the victim with the means to avoid or put a stop to harassment, and they may prevent the antagonist from proceeding to more violent action.  The intent of these defensive measures is to "defuse" the aggressive feelings of the assailant and should be used in a friendly manner.  It is important to remember that you want to avoid trouble, not stir it up.  The following suggestions are examples of the use of subtle defensive measures to eliminate harassment and intimidation.

      Ignore and leave.  This should always be the first alternative to consider.  Ignoring the unacceptable actions of others and leaving the scene eliminates the possibility that your further actions will increase the tension even when you don't want that to happen.

      Be firm but friendly.  The use of a smile, a minor concession, or an apology (even when one is not warranted) is a valuable technique when your object is to reduce the need for more violent defensive measures.  Care should be taken to not threaten the aggressor, crush his self-respect, or cause him to lose face, especially in front of others.

      Speak politely.  The effectiveness of verbal defenses is largely dependent on tone of voice and choice of words.  A gentle and considerate tone works better than a loud and angry one and a request is more effective than a threat or an insult.

      Seek the company of others.  The danger of physical violence is usually minimized, but not always, if there are others around.  If you are alone, walk into a nearby store, change seats, or mix with others who may be in the immediate vicinity.

      Use pressure points.  When you are annoyed by nonviolent but unwanted physical contact, a hand on your knee or an arm around your shoulders, for example, disengage yourself gently or ask for the contact to be stopped.  If that doesn't work, then you may want to consider breaking the contact by using pressure points.  This takes a certain amount of skill, and should be learned and practiced with a qualified instructor.